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Rural Weddings

Submitted by Reyes N. Martínez on May 13, 1936, to the WPA Files, State Records Center/Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  His typewriter lacked keys for accent marks, and he added none with his pen.

When the aspiring bridegroom had indicated his preference, his parents, accompanied by a number of close relatives, would go to the young lady’s home, as on a social visit.  After some conversation with her parents, the father of the young man would hand them a sealed letter with the request that they read it at their leisure.  After the visitors had left, the contents of the letter, containing the request for her hand in marriage, were made known to the girl in question.  She, then, would make known her wishes.  In many instances the young man had never had any social intercourse with, or broached the subject of marriage to the girl, and had not the least idea what her attitude toward him would be.  A favorable answer was never expected, or forthcoming, according to custom, before the fifteenth day after the proposal, and, as no information was available, the suspense during that period of time became almost unbearable to the hopeful young man and, also, cause for much gossip among the village folk.  However, if the eighth day passed and no answer had been received, the tension eased to some extent.  But a sealed letter, sent by messenger, and received on or before the eighth day, sounded the death knell to his matrimonial aspirations with that particular girl solicited.  Yet, a negative answer, although considered a setback in some respects, by no means killed his ambition of seeking conjugal bliss elsewhere.  The adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” became a consoling adjunct applicable to the situation, and again his parents, although somewhat distressed by the failure of their first venture, would make their way to the home of some other eligible girl.  Sometimes three and even four attempts were made, in as many different homes, before their efforts were successful.

The passing of the eighth day always indicated a favorable answer.  On the fifteenth day, the parents of the girl, accompanied by some of their relatives, arrived at the young man’s house, where a sumptuous feast awaited them, and delivered the long-awaited answer.  The date of the wedding was then fixed and all the residents of the village were invited to the ceremonies attendant thereto.  The “Padrinos,” godparents, or witnesses, were invited.  Padrinos were persons selected for their sympathetic friendship to the parents, as well as their honorable standing in the community, and throughout life were shown by the couple they sponsored, the same high esteem and respect that they held for their own parents; in like manner, the padrinos treated their “haijados,” godchildren, with the same affection shown their own children.  The parents of the wedded couple became compadres to each other, and also to the padrinos.  Compadre  has no corresponding usage in english, but the meaning is clearly obvious.

The “Prendorio,” or the giving-away of the bride ceremony, was held at her home, eight days before the date of the wedding.  The prendorio was the occasion for the giving of presents or gifts to the bride, as tokens of love and friendship“Prendorio” is a word derived from the word prenda, meaning a jewel, or some other highly prized object.  At this ceremony, the bride was introduced to the bridegroom’s relatives.  After partaking of a banquet, dancing was enjoyed throughout the day.

After the prendorio, preparations were undertaken for the wedding.  The bride was taken by the bridegroom to the stores of the nearest large town for the selection of her wedding trousseau.  He would, also, buy the “donas,” presents from him to the bride.  These usually consisted of one large trunk, some yards of “raso,” a closely woven silk of the best grade, rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry that appealed to his taste.  The preparations were watched with joyous expectancy by the populace till the wedding day arrived.

The marriage ritual took place at the village church.  Attendance taxed the otherwise commodious temple.  The parents remained at the home of the bride, to await the return of the bridal party.  The arrival, after the nuptial rites at the church, was a spectacular affair.  Headed by the “musicos,” usually two violin and guitar players, and to the tune of a wedding march, amid shouts and pistol and gun shots discharged into the air, the wedded couple were met by their parents and other relatives and friends a short distance from the house.  Hearty hugging and kissing, and crying, took place, then the march was resumed, the parents falling in line behind the bride and the groom.  In the house a banquet was in waiting for them.  First were served the refreshments.  When all had partaken, the regular meal was served.  It was considered a slight to the well-meaning hosts not to partake heartily, and, as that morning they had eaten only a very sparing breakfast, in anticipation of the banquet, the guests did real justice to everything placed before them.  Liquor flowed freely, wine for the women, and the men partook of stronger drink.  Hilarity reigned supreme.  Dancing and singing were enjoyed throughout the rest of the afternoon, till the guests went home to get ready for the wedding dance at the hall.  Immediately after supper, the wedding march wended its way towards the dance hall, in the same order of formation as before, and to the same noisy accompaniment.  The walls, decorated with as many mirrors as could be procured, gave the hall a natty appearance, considered indispensable for a wedding dance.  The entry into the hall focused all eyes on the bridal couple.  The look of modesty of the bride, in contrast with the look of pride of the bridegroom, was a sight to be remembered long afterwards.  They marched two or three times around the hall, then all were seated, the bridal party taking their places at the head of the hall, the opposite end to the entrance, in front of the musicians, who were seated on chairs placed upon a table.

The hall was illuminated by “aranas,” spiders, a name not wholly adequate, as their resemblance in shape to that multi-legged insect was almost nil.  These aranas were made of three pieces of board, each about a yard in length and two or three inches in width, two of the pieces nailed together in the shape of a cross, and the other piece nailed perpendicular to them at their jointure, with a string attached to it for the purpose of hanging it up from the ceiling.  Several holes were drilled in the crossed pieces every three inches, for the insertion of wax candles.  The candles were put in and lighted, and the aranas hung up in their places.  From three to five of these aranas were used, hung up an even distance from each other, along the center, the full length of the hall.  As the candles burned down, melted wax dripped down upon the heads and clothing of the dancers.  New candles were inserted in the holes of the ones burned down.

The Bastonero,” or manager of the dance, had charge of keeping the proceedings in order and also of naming the dancers.  He was chosen as a rule for his stern and respectful appearance.  The novios and the padrinos, joined by others named by the bastonero, started the dancing, customarily with a “Balse de Cadena,” a chain waltz, a piece danced by every two couples joining hands in a circle, and rotating around in a circle, then breaking, as indicated by the change in tempo of the music, and waltzing back and forth about each other the width of the hall, till again the change in tempo indicated “chain.”  Each couple danced towards opposite ends of the hall, some coming and others going, and forming chain with a different couple each time.  A chain waltz was danced by as many couples as the hall could accommodate.  It was an interesting sight to watch from a higher level, the circles of dancers turning around in unison, as several wheels revolving horizontally.  As each couple reached the head of the hall, the guitarrero, guitar player, would sing a viva to them, a verse in rhyme with the name of the male dancing partner.  The guitarrero had a natural ability for poetry, and some of his vivas matched and described the characteristic traits and circumstances of the dancers so exactly as to cause a burst of applause and hilarity throughout the hall.  The male partner then had to “redeem” himself by giving the singer some money.  The accumulation of nickels, dimes, and quarters would amount to a considerable sum at the end of the dance and made good guitar-playing and poetic ability a especially remunerable calling.

Another very popular dance piece was “La Cuna,” the cradle, danced similarly to the chain waltz, but instead of forming into a circle, every two couples, by a complicated interlacing of arms and passing back and forth, would form into cradle or basket shape, the four bringing their hands together at the center and rotating to the right, to and fro in imitation of the rocking motion of a cradle, then breaking into waltz, as indicated by the change in tempo of the music, as in the chain waltz.

Laughter and gaiety reigned throughout till dawn, then the novios and the padrinos would retire to the home of the bride.  There the entriega, or delivery, of the wedded couple took place.  A special verse, indicative of the responsibilities of wedded lie, separation from parental care, and a final farewell to bachelorhood, was sung to the accompaniment of the guitar.  The young couple then knelt to receive the blessing of their parents and older relatives, reverently kissing their proffered hands.  A few refreshments were then partaken of, and thus the final curtain was drawn on the first episode ushering two young souls into a journey of matrimonial adventure.  Quiet again descended upon the village that had celebrated so gaily and so fully.

Today the coming of electricity into the rural sections has replaced the decorative but crude lights, and the modern orchestra has taken the place of the string musicians with very few exceptions.  The prendorios are still held in the villages, but of course city life has caused many of the long-ago customs and dances to be eliminated entirely or replaced by Anglo customs.

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